Thomas Day

Thomas Day (1748-89) has been described as ‘lacking all social graces’ (Jenny Uglow), ‘compellingly repellent’ (Miranda Seymour), ‘confoundingly, detestably hypocritical’ (Helen Davies), and ‘Georgian Britain’s most ineligible bachelor’ (Wendy Moore).

Image of Joseph Wright of Derby's portrait of Thomas Day, oil on canvas

Joseph Wright of Derby painted this stormy portrait of Thomas Day, possibly clutching a philosophical work in his left hand. Source Wiki site

Many tell the story of Thomas Day, without doubt one of Surrey’s most extraordinary and eccentric residents, in a cautionary manner. While he sought to perfect the virtuous life, he harboured barely-concealed misogynist sentiments as a result of his pitiful failures to court women. If his harmful opinions were not enough to elicit judgement from the perspective of the 21st century, his bizarre quest to mould the ‘perfect wife’, with an institutionalised orphan for raw material, certainly would raise eyebrows today.

Day lived for the last eight years of his life in Surrey with his wife, the equally remarkable Esther Day (née Milnes, 1753-92), daughter of Richard Milnes and his wife Elizabeth, whom he married only after his ugly human experiment had been thoroughly ditched. At Anningsley, a few miles from Ottershaw, near Chertsey, Thomas Day concluded the captivating tale of his life by using his inheritance to try to build his perfect world in miniature on a large estate.

There appear to be many aspects of Day’s life which biographers overlook today, stunned as they are by his treatment of women. Beside the utopian experiment he attempted on the grounds of Anningsley, here he also wrote some immensely important works. He wrote essays and children’s literature, and furthered the cause of the abolition of the slave trade to an extent that often goes unrecognised.

Here, you can read about:

Thomas Day’s experiment to mould an orphan into his ideal wife.

Early support for the Abolition of slavery in Thomas Day’s work.

Thomas Day’s life in Anningsley, where he wrote The History of Sandford and Merton.

Contemporary Sources:

London Daily News, Tuesday 2nd November 1858, Issue 3890.
Marriage settlement between Thomas Day and Esther Milnes, 6th August 1778 (SHC ref 300/6/35a-b).
Will of Thomas Day, 1780 (SHC ref 300/6/37).
Hassell watercolour of Anningsley Estate (SHC ref 4348/4/3/13).

Modern Sources:

Blackman, John, A Memoir of the Life and Writings of Thomas Day (London: John Bedford Leno, 1862), chs. 8 & 9.
Moore, W., How to Create the Perfect Wife (London: Wenfield& Nicolson, 2013).
Rowland, P., The Life and Times of Thomas Day, 1748–1789 (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1996), ch. 15.
Russell, B., History of Western Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1996), Chapter 19, pp. 624-636.
Sadler, M., Thomas Day, an English Disciple of Rousseau (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928).
Scott, S. H., The Exemplary Mr. Day, 1748-1789, Author of Sandford and Merton (London: Faber & Faber, 1935), ch. 11.
Wilson, G.H., The Eccentric Mirror (London: James Cundee, 1807), pp. 20-32.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (
‘Educating Sabrina’, Jenny Uglow for The Guardian, 5th October, 2002 (
Review of How to Create the Perfect Wife, Miranda Seymour for The New York Times, 21st June 2013 (
Review of How to Create the Perfect Wife, Andrea Wulf for The Guardian, 4th January 2013 (
Review of How to Create the Perfect Wife, Bella Bathurst for The Guardian and The Observer, 17th February 2013 (
Review of How to Create the Perfect Wife, Helen Davies for the Sunday Times, 10th February 2013 (
‘A Philosophical Romance: Women, Education and Enlightenment’ by Kate Iles for West Midlands History (
‘Thomas Day (1748-1789)’ featured on Brycchan Carey’s website (

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